Public invited to ‘Return to Venus’ program

The John J. McCarthy Observatory in New Milford will hold its next “Second Saturday Stars” program, “Return to Venus,” March 14.

The program will run from 8 to 10 p.m. at the observatory behind New Milford High School on Route 7 South.

The program will reexamine the challenges of exploring a world with a surface temperature approaching 900°F, sulfuric acid rain, and crushing atmospheric pressure.

NASA science centers have advanced innovative approaches to exploring Venus, using atmospheric probes, instrument-equipped balloons and hybrid airships riding the Venusian winds, a completely mechanical surface explorer (no electronics), and a robotic landsailing vehicle, based on breakthrough technology and ceramic computer chips developed by NASA Glen for high-temperature applications.

The planet Venus reigns supreme in the western sky in March and April, shinning brighter than any star or planet.

Through a telescope, the surface of this dazzling jewel is hidden beneath an impenetrable veil of clouds — a hellish, volcanic landscape only just being explored.

NASA’s Mariner 2 spacecraft was the first robotic probe to execute a successful encounter with another planet when it flew by Venus in December 1962.

The spacecraft confirmed the blast furnace surface temperature, the planet’s slow, retrograde rotation rate, and its predominately carbon dioxide atmosphere.

While Venus has been targeted by several international missions, NASA’s last visit, by the Magellan orbiter, concluded in October 1994 after radar-mapping 98 percent of the surface.

As the Earth warms, there is renewed interest in returning to the second rock from the sun for answers to fundamental questions, including why did conditions on Venus diverged from potentially Earth-like to a runaway greenhouse and, more important, is the Earth likely to follow?

While Venus is not currently targeted by any NASA mission, there are several that have been proposed and identified as future concepts.